Documents detail Republican push to force hand counts in Arizona election

<span>Records show Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, two of three board supervisors, advocated for hand-counting ballots.</span><span>Composite: The Guardian/Javier Palma/ Cassidy Araiza</span>
Records show Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, two of three board supervisors, advocated for hand-counting ballots.Composite: The Guardian/Javier Palma/ Cassidy Araiza

Republican elected officials in a small Arizona county talked with state lawmakers and activists about hand-counting ballots there in 2022 and urged their counterparts in other counties to push for hand counts as well, newly released public records show.

The records from Cochise county, a Republican stronghold along the US-Mexico border, only came to light after a lawsuit from a watchdog group, American Oversight, and took well over a year to be released. The original records request from American Oversight was filed in November 2022.

They show how Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, two of the three-member board of supervisors, were both advocating for hand-counting ballots as election denialism and skepticism gripped the county. The two supervisors also delayed certification of the county’s election results in 2022, which resulted in criminal charges in a case that is still ongoing.

The records also show that there was confusion among constituents, and at times the supervisors themselves, over what the plan was and how it could be executed, especially as courts issued rulings. It appeared from records that earlier in the process, both supervisors were doubtful a hand count could happen, especially so close to an election – but, once the idea gained momentum on the right and got national attention, they kept pushing.

Experts warn that hand-counting ballots is often more costly, less accurate and more time-consuming than machine tabulation. Fears over machines rely on false claims that votes were injected into counts or systems were otherwise hacked. A push for hand counts across the country could serve as another basis to undermine election results this year.

“They will not stop,” Chioma Chukwu, interim executive director of American Oversight, told the Guardian. “They’re going to continue until they get what they want, which is pushing for hand counts, delaying the certification of election results if the election does not go their way in November.”

Already, one supervisor from Mohave county, another Republican-led area, sued to contest the idea hand counts are not allowed, and state lawmakers who were actively calling for hand counts in the midterms are still in office.

In Arizona, several state lawmakers contacted Judd to help advance or praise the hand-count idea, with one offering legal advice from legislative lawyers on the ability to conduct a full hand count and another claiming no state laws would impede them. The courts disagreed – a lawsuit stopped a full hand count from proceeding, and the supervisors lost the case again on appeal.

“This demonstrates what we suspected, which is that there was a lot of influence and coordination from the Arizona state legislature, putting pressure on and supporting counties that were willing to push for these full hand counts in order to further their goals,” Chukwu said.

Related: Republican who refused to certify Georgia primary a member of election denialist group

For Crosby, doubts over tabulation machines played into his desire for a hand count, records show. He brought up a local ballot problem from 2012 caused by human error which he believes was not properly remedied, saying he “was 10 years ahead of today’s election integrity proponents”. He said he was “personally inclined to think [voting machines] probably can be hacked”.

He also regularly corresponded with activists who claimed tabulation machines were not properly certified, a claim the state had repeatedly debunked. The records also show where Crosby gets some of his information. When someone shared an article from the rightwing news site Gateway Pundit, he wrote back that he watched Gateway Pundit, too. When a reporter from the Epoch Times, a far-right outlet, sought comment, he said, “I respect Epoch Times.”

When constituents contacted Crosby to oppose the hand count, he frequently asked them for their definition of democracy. “I say ‘majority rule’,” he wrote back. When one person sent an email detailing their opposition, he replied: “You should be aware that whoever loses will cry ‘foul’. … You might be on the other side of the table next election.”

Crosby declined to respond to questions from the Guardian unless his entire responses were printed in full, noting that “no news people have agreed to that yet”.

For Judd, her interest was in part a reaction to constituents and a hope that a hand count could assuage election doubts. At times, she defended the county’s elections and said she didn’t believe there were problems. When people emailed her to oppose the hand count, she replied with a long explanation that it would “bring understanding and greater faith in the process for everyone”.

Judd told Votebeat this April that she “never pushed for” the hand count. Her actions behind the scenes, like talking to lawmakers and contacting other county supervisors and encouraging them to try to hand-count ballots, undermine those claims. She texted one person to say there were efforts to get her on Steve Bannon or Mike Lindell’s shows to spread the word, adding: “We need to make this bigger and we can.”

In one email she said, “hand counting is as American as apple pie”. She spoke against the people trying to prevent the hand count, including the then secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, who she said “has all election directors singing in chorus” against hand counts.

Chukwu said the records showed “an active role in her pushing for the hand count”.

Judd’s attorney said because she was “a defendant in an active criminal case”, she would not be talking with the media.

In an email with an activist, she mentions talking with Lupe Diaz, a state representative, to get his input on the issue. Diaz “gave me a great addition to the reason for following through on this”, she wrote. “If the county, attorneys or otherwise, blocks this effort it further solidifies that the Elections Dept has something to hide.”

In an email to a local activist, she said she spoke with the state senator David Gowan, who was “100% behind the hand count” and offered ideas for how to get the plan to a vote. Gowan messaged Judd on a few occasions to offer support.

“There are so many in the Senate, who support you guys on the hand count,” Gowan wrote to Judd. “Just want you to know, many of them are watching online right now.”

Judd wrote to an assortment of supervisors in other Arizona counties, imploring them to also try to hand-count ballots.

“So here is a plea to you,” she wrote. “If your county can handle this bold of a move and even if you don’t think they can. Please make an effort. It takes a majority of the board or the chairman to call a special meeting. Call it and see what happens.”

The county did not respond to a request for comment on why it took so long to turn over the records. American Oversight said its goal with filing suit over the records was to provide insight and accountability on how the hand-count process happened and enforce public access to documents.